Saturday, 5 May 2007

Day Two:Coulombiers to Dieppe

Dawn breaks over the Crewe Cruiser and Crew

It’s freezing cold, but clear and still. Looking good for the flight home. We load up the Bentley and take our leave of Le Centre de Poitou, knowing we’ll see it again someday.

It’s still early when we arrive at Niort and Martin and Adrian start layering up to withstand the cold.

Two old, cold pilots

Robert arrives, ever cheerful and unlocks the hangar. The Cub’s snug and safe, and Robert has had his mechanic change the oil and re-route a couple of HT cables that were in danger of chafing. He absolutely refuses payment for the service work or hangarage – un vrai gentilhomme.

Robert demonstrates true entente cordiale
We already know she can be a bitch to start. Today she really doesn’t want to get out of bed. After two hours of sweating, Adrian (by now christened Monsieur Vrai) concludes that fuel doesn’t flow uphill. He removes an inlet manifold and squirts some petrol up the pipe. The Cub starts second pull.
AHC (Monsieur Vrai), about to make another correct guess

They’re airborne and I’m allowed to get to know the Bentley without distraction. It’s lovely. There’s this gigantic, unhurried 6.7 litre V8 purring gently to itself up front. Back here on the bridge I’m surrounded by the finest cow wrappings, highlighted tastefully with polished rain forest. The chromed ventilator knobs slide home with an indecently tactile schluck. I find The Best of Fleetwood Mac in AHC’s CD changer and spend a happy 100 miles in duet with Stevie Nicks.
The boys beat me to Le Mans, refuel, and press on north to Bernay. I programme the TomTom with Bernais and head determinedly south. It’s 20km before I realise my mistake, by which time I’m heading the wrong way down a toll road. I pull off, negotiate the péage booth, turn round and get back onto the same toll road, ready to pay again.
In an attempt to catch up, the Bentley and I violate French airspace at speeds somewhat in excess of the 130kph speed limit. I love driving in this country; the roads are uncrowded and the standard of driving puts our own lane-hogging pig-ignorance to shame.
Once again, the airborne bath chair has won the race. Martin and Adrian land in Dieppe a good half hour ahead of me, even after the illegal velocities.
TomTom doesn’t know where Dieppe airport is. I call Adrian who asks the locals at the aero club. I’m in Martin Eglise, about five miles away. They can’t give me directions from there as it’s too difficult. Later, they recommend an auberge in Martin Eglise, to which they give us detailed, concise directions. Am I the only one who can see the logical inconsistency here?
But I’m being churlish. Once again, we find the locals friendly, welcoming and accommodating. They volunteer hangarage for the Cub; We explain that we’ll be back tomorrow. They tell us that the club will be deserted - and give us the keys.

Auberge du Clos Normand
The president of the aero club recommended Auberge du Clos Normand. And he was right. It’s a beautiful old building, with the guest rooms in a separate galleried farm building. The chef-patron is welcoming and congenial, and once again, vegetism is no problem. The meal doesn’t quite soar to the gastronomic heights of yesterday, but it’s a damned close thing. I somehow bag the best room, with a gigantic corner bath, but we all have a view of the river and garden, and the birdsong is world-class.

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